Can cities bring us to a culture of peace?

Through my studies of the culture of war, I came to the conclusion that the state is involved with it so profoundly that we will never achieve a culture of peace in a system of nation states. As a result, I proposed that we need a United Nations that is based not upon Member States, but upon regional associations of cities and towns. After all, cities and towns have no vested interest in the culture of war, no armies, no military contracts, no border defenses, and no recent history of maintaining power through armed force.

Therefore, it is important to know if the culture of peace is advancing at the level of the city. This month’s CPNN bulletin provides a number of examples of culture of peace initiatives at the level of the city. But has there been progress? It’s not so clear.

There was evident progress in the years when UNESCO and the United Nations promoted the culture of peace through the International Year 2000 and the International Decade 2001-2010. UNESCO instituted a Prize for Peace Cities in 1996, and during the initial years of the Decade there was a flourishing of City Peace Commissions in Brazil, but the UNESCO Prize was discontinued in 2005 and the Brazilian Commissions are no longer very active.

The oldest initiatives, Mayors for Peace and the International Association of Peace Messenger Cities, are devoted principally to lobbying and trying to change the policies of the nation states. This, according the analysis above, is not likely to succeed.

Several other international networks of city peace initiatives started during the previous Decade but are no longer very active, those of Rotary International, Sri Chinmoy, and the peacebuilding project of UCLG, the largest network of city governments.

The newest networks of peace cities, International Cities of Peace and Peace Towns and Cities promise to develop a local culture of peace rather than simply trying the influence state policies.

If we consider only one component of the culture of peace, namely sustainable development, then we must say that the leading example is ICLEI, the world network of cities dealing with sustainable development. See, for example, their meeting that took place in parallel to last year’s UN summit in Rio.

Finally, individual cities continue to work on a culture of peace at a local level: for example, Eugene (Oregon, U.S.), New Haven (Connecticut, U.S.) and Hamilton (Ontario, Canada), and hopefully, they will serve as models for other city initiatives.

Culture of peace at the level of the city is a work in process. CPNN will continue to follow its development in the years that come.

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